Sunday, March 14, 2010
Stuck in the Mud
In the event, things were much easier for Sydney than expected, largely thanks to Paul Ifill's injury and resultant anonymity, which took all of the life out of the Phoenix. In a mostly dire first half, the Wellington go-to man was painfully ineffective, and it was extraordinary that the away side didn't make more of an attempt to work the play down the other wing, where Leo Bertos was faced by the defensively suspect Sung-Hwan Byun. The result was a thoroughly sterile performance from the visitors.
In truth, Sydney FC weren't much better in the opening period, doing surprisingly little with the mountains of easy possession they were vouchsafed by their opposition, who were perhaps too keenly aware that their chief attacking threat was incapable of moving beyond second gear. As so often, Alex Brosque was the star of the evening, moving intelligently and creating openings while many of his team-mates looked unsure of themselves.
John Aloisi's injury could be considered a blessing in disguise. Chris Payne's first goal was very well-taken (he showed that he has developed the physical side of his game when shrugging off the challenge of Tony Lochhead), and although his second was, of course, a travesty, at least he had managed to get himself into prime position at the set-piece, something which could not always be said of Aloisi this term. The various conspiracy theorists might note that soon after Payne's handball, he would have been one-on-one with Liam Reddy had Peter Green not prematurely called for a foul on Brosque. The officiating was poor throughout...not for the first time in a preliminary final.
The game did liven up in the second period as both sides rediscovered their rhythm somewhat, but Wellington simply didn't have enough firepower to trouble the premiers. It was entirely fitting, too, the Sydney's two second-half goals sprung from the Bridge-Brosque partnership, displaying all the mobility and invention that they have shown at times under Vitezslav Lavicka.
There must be questions over Ricki Herbert's judgement in keeping Ifill on the field for as long as he did, and in holding back Eugene Dadi until the game was all but over. But in general terms, all the confidence and verve that characterised the Phoenix in recent weeks seemed to disappear when it mattered most.
So back to the Etihad, where Sydney didn't quite do enough the last time around. One feels that they have a better chance this time, with Melbourne tired and perhaps demoralised by their Asian Champions League exertions, and Sydney showing admirable resilience after a heartbreaking semi-final loss last week. But Ernie Merrick's side have won two home grand finals already, both of them against teams that showed a similar ability to bounce back from disappointment in an earlier playoff.
It's a very hard one to call.
Melbourne should be going into this one fresher than they have been in the previous two encounters with possibility of an almost full strength squad, Celeski and Kemp aside. And fortunately no pre-ACL games to worry about. I'm hoping for a big crowd and of course a Melbourne win.
I'm picking Melbourne, Victory like the Glory and Newcastle in recent games should easily be able to split the sometimes pedestrian nay dozy ball watching Sydney central pairing of Kellar and Colosimo. (Think McGarry, Matt and Archie Thompson...not that they all scored.)
Can anyone see Archie not getting numerous chances? Will he convert, well maybe that will decide the final!
Anyway, i'm just happy that 2 of the 3 sides that can actually play to a good standard made it this far.
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For a fan of a team that lost a key player to them mid season, and who who seem to think it is a good idea to buy one of their case-offs as a precious foreign spot (in place of the foreign player used to promote the game in Brisbane - Van Dijk) - I want to know why Wellington is allowed to have 14 foreign players - when everyone else can only have 5.